Masks: Rite of Passage Part 2

This is a crossover story, between my Masks universe and the Whateley universe. This uses material created by others with no intent of commercial gain; it's strictly for the fun of it. :-)

Rite of Passage

by

Rodford Edmiston

Part Two

The next two days were busy for Jenny. She ate, slept, was tested and kept herself busy so she wouldn't have to think about being stranded here. Finally, the powers people called a halt. A temporary one, only, though. They needed time to digest - and report - what they had already learned.

Thursday, right after regular classes, the Headmistress met with the various doctors and test personnel to find out what they had learned.

"She's obviously not an Exemplar," said Dr. Hewley. "Though she is quite fit. She's surprisingly not even an Energizer; not only do her powers work differently, her manipulation range is much broader than any Energizer we know of. We're pretty sure she's a TK of some sort, considering the way she can manipulate both matter and energy and forces. So far our tentative evaluation is: TK 3, EK 4 going just barely into EK 6 with that burst attack of hers, PK 4 at least, with a Dexterity of c and a Control of d. All of that while also maintaining her protective field. The thing is, both she and her testers on her home world think those are actually all part of a single power. They classify her as a General Force and Energy Manipulator. Moreover, her flying is separate! She says most flyers on her world function through graviton manipulation. They've even mapped a specific gene complex responsible, though they don't know how it works beyond that association. That type of flight is very handy. She says that, wearing a spacesuit, she has flown to the Moon in a few hours under her own power! From her description, she's given us some potential insights into how Tennyo's 'personal gravity' works. For Energia, it partially compensates for accelerations, so she can make tighter, quicker maneuvers without blacking out. We're thinking that might actually make her some type of Warper."

"That is all very interesting," said Carson. "However, since her powers work through different genes, does it really help us all that much with anyone besides the few who fly the way Tennyo does? Or even them?"

"Maybe not, but it helps us fill in the big picture. Anyway, finishing our part of the evaluation, her powers definitely include appropriate super senses. She can detect radio waves, and actually understand AM transmissions. In fact, her range goes from longwave radio to gamma, the same as her manipulation. She can also detect, manipulate and even generate magnetic fields, electrical fields, just about everything we tested. She can't directly manipulate gravity, except for how she flies. However, that ability comes with another extra sense, an innate sense of down. A sort of 'bump of gravity' which acts like a pilot's eightball."

He laughed and shook his head.

"She actually found the spin chair boring. Anyway, we're tentatively rating her as having ESP New Senses 5."

"Telepaths say her mind is full of static unless she deliberately shuts off all her powers," said Polland. "Since they are second nature - I'd even say first nature - to her, she doesn't do that often. She said that even in her sleep she sometimes hears radio transmissions and feels things like electrical storms moving in. Usually, unless she concentrates on some part of this background, it's just white noise."

"That gives her ESP senses, effective telepathy since she can transmit radio as well as receive it, and TK," said Carson, scowling. "Which makes her a Package Deal Psychic. Only that doesn't actually fit her."

"I think everyone here is familiar with the limitations of the classification system," said Dr. Hewley.

"Doctor Bellows?" said Carson, looking over at the Psychiatrist. "What is your evaluation?"

"We need to keep a very careful watch on that girl."

"Oh?" said Carson, a bit surprised. "She seems to be handling this situation remarkably well."

"Her blood chemistry is a bit worrying," said Dr. Bellows. "It's all normal human, but... well, some hormones and neurotransmitters are out of balance. Nothing major, but I'd be surprised if she weren't prone to easy rages and social distancing. When I asked if there was a history of insanity in her family she laughed and said no, but that her Mother and Grandmother tended to drive other people crazy."

"That does sound worrying," said Carson. She laughed. "Especially with the way she's hanging around Team Kimba!"

"They're immune," said Bellows, dryly. "Through extensive exposure."

"Do you really think she's a rager?" said Delarose.

"No. Nowhere near. The thing is, anyone can go off with the right stimulus. Her blood chemistry indicates she's more prone than most, and she is currently under a lot of stress. From what we know of her powers, if she does go off she could blow every unshielded electronic device and electrical circuit in the county."

The consensus was that Jenny/Energia was both powerful and very, very interesting. Which did nothing to help her get home.

"We have some specific tests set up for tomorrow which should give us a line on her home universe," said Dr. Hewley.

"Then let's wish her - and your techs - luck," said Mrs. Carson. She checked her watch. "Not as late as I thought. Dr. Hewley, would you be willing to stay for a bit and go over these test results with Jennifer this evening?"

"Certainly."

* * *

Jenny reached the dining hall that evening a bit late. The explanation of her powers had been brief, but still kept her long enough that the new friends she had made here were already gone by the time she reached Dunn. She ate a quick meal and headed through the cold and dark for her small apartment.

She was almost there when she became aware of several people sneaking around on either side of the path, ahead of and behind her. Jenny stopped, frowning. The Kimbas had warned her about the pranks, and that sometimes they were more than pranks. When several young men in dark clothing moved out from cover and surrounded her she held her ground, making herself relax.

"Hey, there, pretty thing," said the biggest of them. "You're awfully young to be out this late... all alone."

Jenny was worried, but only a bit. Yes, there were six of them, likely with powers. From what she had learned, the typical power level here was higher than back home, at least in some categories, so there was a good chance at least one of them was significantly more potent than her in some way. She always had to be on guard against someone physically superhuman, of course, since she was normal in that respect. However, so far this group were just trying to intimidate her. The secret to being intimidating wasn't being powerful, it was appearing powerful.

The lights along the path dimmed, the diversion of electricity not only charging her but the accompanying darkness enhancing the effect she wanted. Jenny lifted off the ground a bit, and a capsule glowing pale violet and lavender surrounded her. There was a strong scent of ozone, and an electrical hum. Sparks played over her skin and through her hair, which was standing out straight.

"Think of me as a toaster," she said, stealing the line from a classmate's mother. "You're the toast."

They left.

Well, that was easy, Jenny thought, as she let her plasma wall dissipate and settled back onto the path.

Maybe it had been too easy. Of course, experience had taught her that even the real tough guys had an instinctive aversion to getting shocked. Still, she kept an eye out as she resumed walking along the pathway.

From her perch in a tree just off the path, Chou watched the older girl, and frowned. The tao had urged her here, but from what she had just seen Jenny didn't need her help to deal with some low-level bullies. However, there was still a nagging sense of need, of purpose, deep in the back of her mind. Chou light-footed to the next large tree along the path, watching and waiting.

Jenny's vigilance paid off as she approached a part of the path where a bulb was out. She raised her hand and made it glow, dispelling the shadows... only, some of them weren't dispelled. Worse, they were moving, towards her. Jenny felt a deep chill which had nothing to do with the weather.

There! Chou saw those moving shadows, and realized that was the purpose the tao had led her here for. She dropped to the ground and moved quickly across the top of the snow, leaving no tracks. She wasn't quite in time.

The closest of the shadows lunged at Jenny. She reflexively hit it with an electrical bolt. Which had no effect. Her scream was cut off as the thing covered her face. More plastered themselves to her body, knocking Jenny onto her back.

The Handmaid dropped to the ground between the bulk of the shadows and their target, momentarily stopping the assault. Five quick sweeps of her sword removed those already on Jenny, the shadows dissolving into nothing at the blade's touch. Bizarrely, they had begun to merge into a single mass, covering the girl like a blanket. Chou turned towards the remaining shadows. They moved forward in a twin-pronged swarm, flanking her on both sides.

Chou danced among the shadows, slicing them, driving them back from Jenny. They tried to go around her, determined to get to the older girl, but Chou could feel the flow of their movement, even their intent. After a few moments, Jenny recovered enough to help, sitting up and firing beams of intense light at demons. Unlike the electricity, that hurt them, actually dispelled them, but they were legion.

"Get ready to cover your eyes!" said Jenny, using her flight to suddenly rise a bit above the path.

She held her hands high, and Chou barely ducked her head and closed her eyes in time. The world filled with light, painfully bright, for several seconds. Then it faded.

"I think that got all of them," said Jenny, gasping.

Chou checked around, using more than her eyes, since they were still dazzled.

"I believe it did," she said. The sense of menace was gone, though there was a lingering feeling of business unfinished. She sheathed her sword. "I also believe we need to speak to an expert about this matter. After we explain things to security."

When the security personnel arrived all they saw was two girls sitting peacefully on a bench. They naturally went to full alert. Fortunately, the leader of the group knew Chou. He quizzed her for several minutes - Chou was actually able to identify several of the young toughs who had surrounded Jenny - then spoke with Jenny.

"Weird. The first incident sounds like typical bullying here. The second..."

"I felt something alien in them," said Chou. "I believe they are more in the province of Mrs. Chulkris, or even the Reverend Englund than regular security."

"You're probably right. I'll file a report, with a note to send copies to the staff members who handle supernatural problems."

"I will have Fey speak with Jenny. She may be able to find a significance I cannot. I will also ask her to introduce our guest to whomever of the supernatural experts Fey thinks would be most suitable for deciding what to do next."

"Yeah," said the security guy, nodding. "That should about cover it. I think we're finished here. Good night. And be careful, both of you."

Chou escorted Jenny to Poe. Truthfully, Jenny did not want to be alone right then. Bullies and even supervillains she could handle, but those shadows...

* * *

"I need some Doc Wilson's," said Jenny, groaning as she rubbed her arm.

"Some what?" said Toni.

"Doc Wilson's Whiz-Bang Anti-Fungal Ointment," said Jenny. "The FDA in my US banned it more than forty years ago. Most likely because 'Elfin magic' wasn't an approved ingredient. Lately, though, we started importing it from England to the island where my school is. It's a general-purpose, non-prescription topical medicine which seems to work particularly well on supers. I have some packets in my costume's medical kit, but that's in my room."

"Chou, do you have any of that muscle cream?" said Ayla.

The sword girl nodded and hurried to fetch it.

"She moves like Tiger," said Jenny, as she watched the girl leave. "He's... Well, a martial artist super who has a genius for fighting. Says he's just moving with the flow."

"That does sound like Chou," said Toni. She smirked. "Of course, it also sounds like every good martial artist."

Chou was soon back with the lineament.

"Thanks. In our as-yet-unnamed team it's usually Gadgetive who carries the more extensive medical supplies."

"Gadgetive?" said Chou, returning with her salve.

"Yeah. She's a..."

"Gadgeteer!" Ayla, Chou, Toni and Fey chorused.

After explaining things to Mrs. Horton, Chou had taken the shaken Jenny to her and Ayla's room. While Chou sat with her, Phase went to fetch Fey, Toni tagging along with the elf girl. Their initial interrogation was brief, due to Jenny realizing she was more hurt than she had previously realized.

"It's like everywhere those things touched me - even through my clothes - they left bruises."

"Ayla, why don't you gather the others for a war session in Kimba Korner," said Fey. "We'll bring her there after we've treated her hurts."

"Good idea," said Ayla. She scowled. "It sets a bad precedent for guests of the school to be attacked."

Jenny felt an odd, little chill.

"She's pretty ruthless, isn't she?" said Jenny, as she began - gingerly - removing her clothes.

"Phase can be the best friend or worst enemy you can have," said Chou, as she scooped some of her salve out of the container.

As it turned out, Ayla wasn't the only one outraged over this double attack. All of Team Kimba as well as several other residents of Poe Cottage were very much on the warpath. In the sunroom several minutes later, Jenny actually found herself staring at Tennyo, who was so angry she seemed to glow. Wait a minute...

"You're... tingly," said Jenny, looking puzzled.

"Tingly?" said Tennyo, momentarily distracted from the slow burn she had begun at hearing the news about Jenny.

"Like you're giving off very low levels of ionizing radiation."

"Uh..." said Billie, shifting uneasily.

"Oh, it's not enough to be dangerous. It's just, every now and then, there's this little spark of gamma."

"That must be interesting," said Ayla, leaning in. "To be able to detect radiation directly."

"Anybody with working eyes can do that," said Hank.

"Or even a functioning sense of warmth," said Jenny, nodding and grinning.

"I meant what most people think of by radiation," said Ayla, irritated.

"Hah!" said Toni. "For once, you're the one being corrected for using the word wrong!"

"Gamma is... spicy. You don't see it often, but it does show up occasionally, at random intervals. Compared to the rest of the spectrum, it's like eating something bland and coming across a grain of pepper. X-rays are more like a bite of radish."

They settled in for a full debriefing. Once Chou and Jenny were finished the others looked to Fey. Who was frowning.

"I think we need to consult an expert on demons," she said, finally.

"Sara," said several of the others, together, though with many different expressions and intonations.

Jenny remembered that while she was friends with the Kimbas, Sara wasn't a team member, and even lived in a different cottage.

"Want me to fetch her?" said the amazonian Hippolyta.

"No need," said Fey, with a smile.

She made a few gestures and said something which Jenny simply couldn't parse. Then sat back to wait.

Jenny looked around, and saw that the others were also waiting. Well, except for Jade and Chaka. Those two hyperactives were each occupying themselves in their own ways. Chaka, for example, was pacing in circles around the room. Only she wasn't using the floor. Jenny gaped as the athletic black girl used chair backs, hammocks and even some of the other students as walking surfaces. Fortunately, before the objections to that last could become too strident, Sara entered the room.

"What's the emergency?"

Chou and Jenny again told their story.

"These things were like blobs of darkness?" said Sara, looking thoughtful.

"Yes!" said both.

"They merged together in a mass to smother you?"

"Yes!" said Jenny.

She looked at Jenny - stared at her in an unnerving way for several seconds - then moved over to sit beside Fey. The pair of them began a quiet discussion which seemed to use mostly English words, but which Jenny understood almost no part of. From the reactions of the others in the room they were likewise clueless. Finally, they nodded, and looked at Jenny.

"Yeah, this is bad," said Sara. "There's no real English - or even human - name for them. Call them shadowspawn for now."

"Why are they after me?!"

"I think whatever sent you here put you through their realm on the way," said Sara. "They're not the only occupants, or even the dominant ones, but they serve as shock troops. You trespassed - doesn't matter how briefly - so the rulers there want to punish you. Also, they normally charge a toll from folks who travel through their realm even with permission. You didn't. That's two strikes against you. Either would be enough for them to keep coming until they get you back there. If the shadowspawn don't do the job, those in charge will eventually start ramping up, sending real monsters after you."

"So... What do I do?"

"I'll check," said Sara, frowning. "Weird as it sounds, I think just retracing your steps would do it. Metaphysically, that would undo the offense. In the process sending you home."

"Okay," said Jenny, a bit dubiously. "I don't know much about magic, but that sounds like the sort of thing folks I know who do know about it say."

"The tao of that feels correct," said Chou, nodding slowly.

"There's one complication."

"Only one?" said Jenny.

"They will try to keep you from undoing the trip. You'll have to fight every second of the way."

"I made it in a tiny fraction of a second the first time," said Jenny, nodding. "If your techs can reproduce that, there shouldn't be a problem."

"Meanwhile, we need to figure out how to protect you until the experts can deal with this," said Sara, thinking. "The campus mages have been reinstating and reinforcing the wards since Hallowe'en, but with everything that's happened they're still playing catchup. Still, to have something like that get through is really bad news."

"Yes, you should spend the night here," said Fey.

"Oh, I definitely do not want to be alone," said Jenny, shuddering.

"That couch unfolds into a fairly comfortable bed," said one of the girls, pointing.

"The cottages are warded separately from the campus as a whole," said Fey, thoughtfully. "However, I think Sara and I should put some extra wards around the couch, just in case. Not just to keep things out, but to hide you. Tomorrow we'll make sure you see some of the mystic staff members. They'll come up with something more durable for your rooms."

"Should I go back and get my stuff?" said Jenny, uncomfortably.

"No. We'll find things for you."

* * *

The next day was a Friday. Jenny hadn't slept well, for good reason. However, as the cottage began stirring she couldn't stay asleep. Besides, today was when they tried to find her "base dimensional signature." Jenny found and thanked her hosts from the night before - including Mrs. Horton - dressed in her clothes from the previous evening and walked back to her quarters. The consensus of the magical experts was that the shadow things could not manifest where there was any sort of bright light, so she was probably safe in daytime.

Jenny cleaned up and got into her costume. Again, this was a green flag day, so she didn't bother with putting her new clothes on over her Mask outfit. She even flew to breakfast - her first time eating here in her costume. That caused some interesting encounters with people who had met her before and now didn't recognize her. The Kimbas were especially startled.

"Wow," said Jade, admiringly, once she accepted that this actually was Jenny. "That is a neat costume. It also makes you look really different."

"I have three costumes," said Energia. "That fit me now, I mean. I've grown out of several, which gets expensive. All of them are variations on the same theme. Two of my current costumes have capes, the other - this one - doesn't. One of the capes is long - that's on what I call my formal costume - the other short. It just happened that for this misadventure I was wearing the capeless costume. It's the newest and fits best."

"That is an interesting material," said Bunny, fondling Energia's sleeve. She had finally realized who the "new cape" was and come over to get a closer look.

"It's DynaCloth(TM). Proprietary formulation, just came out a few months ago. This material is specifically intended for people who aren't physically superhuman. It offers some protection without much restriction of movement, and with low weight."

"It makes you look... bigger," said Ayla, a bit uncomfortably.

"Part of what we call the costume discretion. Subtle - sometimes not so subtle - padding and airbrushing to change the way you look in costume. Helps keep your public and private lives separate."

They talked for a bit about costume design and super fashions. Then the students had to go to class and Energia to the lab building.

"Any of you have any idea how long they'll need with this testing?" said Energia, as they rose to head their separate ways.

"Knowing the doctors and technicians around here," said Ayla, with a weariness which spoke of personal experience, "several hours straight, without even a thought about lunch."

"Ow..." said Energia.

"Keep track of the time and don't be afraid to insist on lunch. They'll probably be grateful for the food, themselves."

"Mrs. Chulkris and Dr. Otto have agreed to meet with you this afternoon at five," said Fey, as they rose from the table. "They'll be performing a... Well, doing something to try and confirm what Sara and I believe about the shadowspawn. You'll need to wear your costume; the more material from your world in one place the easier to find it."

"That's pretty much what they told me for the testing this morning," said Energia.

"Meet me at Poe at a quarter 'till and I'll escort you there. It's... hard to find your way around if you aren't mystically inclined."

"Uhm, I'm supposed to meet with Dr. Bellows at two. I should be through by then."

"See you later, then!" said Fey, cheerfully.

* * *

The testing was... odd. Energia didn't have to lift weights, have blood taken or blast something, or even try to detect some sensory input. She just had to sit in a baffled chamber while a tech outside twiddled with his knobs and the scientists watched readouts. She found the process excruciatingly boring, especially since she was practically in sensory deprivation inside the heavily shielded room. She wasn't even allowed to move.

Finally, after an interminable period, the door opened.

"Uhm," said the head scientist, obviously embarrassed. "At the risk of sounding like an old joke, it's looking like you can't get there from here. In more detail, you obviously passed through multiple dimensional planes between your home and our world. Our working hypothesis is that this teleporter worked through some sort of bounce effect. It was supposed to throw the subject well away from the start plane, then swing back into it, but at a physically remote location. Probably to throw off any tracking attempts. Only, when you interfered, it deflected on the return and you wound up in the same physical location but a different world."

"So," said Energia, tiredly, "what now?"

"We... honestly don't know. But don't worry. We thrive on challenges and plan to meet this one. It... just may take a while."

* * *

Security got a call at two-thirty.

"Do you have the current location of Miss Toulon?" said Dr. Bellows. "She missed her appointment with me and no-one seems to know where she is.

They hadn't.

"Could you please make a special effort to find her? I'm a bit worried."

"Sure, Doc."

"Meanwhile, I'll check with her last appointment."

That proved both revelatory and worrying.

"I left standing orders to notify me immediately if she got bad news about going home!" said Bellows, angrily.

"But..." said the hapless scientist. He swallowed. "It wasn't actually bad news... just not good news. She was taking it so well I didn't think there was any rush."

"She's not taking it well, she's holding it in! If she doesn't find some form of release, she'll just keep holding it in until she cracks. If she does crack, a large part of Whateley will likely crack with her!"

* * *

"Listen up!" said Security Chief Delarose to the assembled personnel. "We have a potential - and I emphasize that it's only potential - problem, here. Our special guest, Energia, got some bad news this morning. No-one has seen her since. Hopefully, she's just off brooding somewhere, but Dr. Bellows is worried she could be building up to a major tantrum. Find her. Do not approach unless she is endangering someone. Now, that last includes herself. She's probably not suicidal, but that can't be ruled out.

"Complicating matters, we know from an incident last night that someone is out to get her. First some toughs surrounded her, then, right after she scared off the guys who were trying to scare her, someone sicced some sort of shadow demons on her. Keep in mind that she stood up to and out-intimidated a group of mid-level tough guys and natural bullies. She did this through sheer display, without hurting any of them. So, don't let her bluff you."

"Chief!" the PA in the briefing room barked. "We finally spotted that Energia gal. She's flying. I mean, she is really flying!"

* * *

Energia threw herself around the sky. Like her uncle, she loved to fly, and was very good at it. Flying wasn't just fun, it was release. Right now, she definitely needed a release.

She started with the airshow standards, but since she didn't depend on wings and control surfaces she did them in ways no aircraft could. Then she started in on the really wild stuff. For several minutes she spun, tumbled, tucked and rolled, all at high speed, well above the ground. She didn't simply move her body like a lump, either, the way too many fliers do. Energia danced through the air, posing and posturing and reveling in her freedom of movement.

Finally, she slowed, exhausted, barely keeping herself in the air. She vaguely noticed a figure approaching, almost timidly.

"Wow," said Tennyo, who parked herself in a hover nearby. "That was like... interpretive modern dance. I mean really good modern dance."

"Thanks," said Energia, panting. She laughed. "I'm glad this new costume material is machine washable. That was a real workout."

"No, seriously. I've never seen anyone fly like that."

"I've been practicing pretty hard, lately, because our school talent show is in just two weeks. My uncle taught me to fly. He's been flying since he was eight years old. I've been flying since I was twelve. We used to play 3D tag."

She sighed, the brief happiness vanishing.

"I may never see any of them again."

"You had some folks worried," said Tennyo, moving closer. "That you'd stray into restricted airspace, I mean. They asked me to be ready in case it looked like you would. You didn't, though."

"First lesson: set up your box," said Energia. She saw the other's puzzled expression. "Like an airshow box. That the planes have to stay in when they do their performances."

"Well, you did," said Tennyo, with an envious laugh.

"Let's get back down."

"You're close to your uncle, I take it," said Tennyo, moving into formation with her as they flew.

"Yeah. I love my Mom and Dad, but Uncle Randy is the only other one with powers. Well, my grandmother can change her eye color at will but that's so trivial most people don't even count it as a power."

"Change her eye color at will," said the anime girl, dubiously. "Okay."

"On my world most powers run in families. They just aren't always... useful. I got pretty lucky."

They touched down on a wide expanse of bright green grass near Poe.

"I believe you. I... it's just that so few of those here have any relatives with powers I think a lot of them would be a bit jealous."

* * *

"Well, that was an anticlimax," said Delarose. "Not that I'm complaining."

He gave Bellows an irritated look.

"I said that she'd crack if she didn't find some way to vent her tensions," said the doctor, mildly. "Looks like she found it."

He looked out the window, towards the sky, thoughtfully.

"I may even recommend that as a form of therapy."

* * *

Energia had missed her appointment with Dr. Bellows that morning, but she made sure to make the one with the pair of magic instructors that evening. Fey was waiting outside Poe as promised. She led Energia to the building for magical instruction. Then through a bizarre series of corridors and concealed doors into a very ordinary looking laboratory classroom.

Energia was relieved to find both of the teachers to be very non-threatening in manner, though Mrs. Chulkris' appearance was a bit unnerving.

"Hello, dear," said the Earth mother, taking Energia's right hand in both of hers and smiling in a reassuring manner. "Dr. Otto and I will be examining you this evening. I assure you our procedures are less invasive and torturous than those you most likely have already endured at the hands of the scientists."

"That's a relief," said Energia, smiling weakly.

They had instructed her to wear her costume, which meant washing it after her exertions. Fortunately, the guest cottage had a small laundry in the basement. The special fabric even dried quickly.

"Now, just relax, and try to empty your mind," said Dr. Otto, as he and Mrs. Chulkris began their arcane preparations. "With luck, we'll be able to not only figure out what those etheria want with you, but where you come from."

* * *

Back at Poe, the visitor to Whateley was the subject of both concern and curiosity.

"I hope they can help her," said Jade, quietly. "To be an orphan, like that... To not just loose your family, but your whole world..."

Several of the others gave Jade sympathetic looks.

"There's something wrong with that girl's brain," said Sara, muttering. "Either that or someone else has already claimed her. I can't think of anything else which would keep her from at least looking at me or Fey."

"True love?" said Jade, her eyes going dreamy.

"Yeah, ri..." The half-demon stopped, looking startled. "I'll be da... Uh, never mind. I think I need to have a talk with that girl."

* * *

"Well, that's that," said Dr. Otto, looking tired but satisfied. "Sara had it right. Both where these things come from, why they're after you, and how to stop them. We think we also got a line on your home dimension."

"That is great," said Energia, with a surge of relief. "Uhm, how do I defend myself until I can be sent home? From what Sara and Fey were saying, they'll just keep coming..."

"We'll work up some charms which will hide you from their senses. Though they may still come to this plane looking for you. We'll need to alert security to be on the watch for them."

"We'll need some time to prepare those charms," said Mrs. Chulkris. "Fey, do you think Poe could host her again tonight?"

"If she doesn't mind another night on that couch," said Fey, with a smirk. "Come along, demon bait. We'll stop by your apartment first and get some of your things. Then it's another happy night at Poe Cottage."

* * *

Jenny was surprised and flattered - and a bit embarrassed - to see herself on campus television that evening. Someone had put together a short movie, using various sources. That included security scanners, which was causing Chief Delarose some blood pressure problems. Though not as serious as the ones he was giving those responsible...

"We need to get one of the artistically talented geniuses here to set that to music," said Ayla. She grinned at Energia. "Y'know, if you give me permission - in writing, with a proper contract - you could make some nice change from that."

"Oh, no!" cried Toni, in mock alarm. "You've given Phase another business idea!"

"How can someone who's not an Exemplar be so good at something?!" said Hippolyta. She seemed torn between admiration and outrage.

"Sheer skill," said Toni, who was definitely in the admiration camp. "Doesn't take powers. Just talent and practice."

"A lot of practice," said Jenny, rolling her eyes.

"I'm glad you're feeling better," said Jade, her big eyes moist with genuine emotion.

"Thank you," said Jenny. She sighed.

Today had been a mix of ups and downs. Demons were after her, and the technical people couldn't send her home. However, she was protected for now, and the magical people thought they might be able to.

Jenny was so tired - only partially from lack of sleep the night before - that she dozed off on the couch well before the cottage residents were ready to call it a night. Being there, among people, even people she had only recently met, was comforting.

They finally woke her around eleven.

"Hey," said Fey, gently shaking Jenny's shoulder. "We're breaking up for the night. You can unfold the couch, now."

Jenny stirred and looked around. Most of those who had been gathered around the TV were already gone. She glanced at the clock.

"It's early for a Friday night, isn't it?"

"Oh, some people are just getting started," said Fey, with a smirk. "They'll be in their rooms, though. You looked tired enough we figured you'd like to get to bed early."

"You figured right about that," said Jenny, stretching and yawning. "Sorry to put a damper on your fun."

"You didn't," said Fey, firmly. "I'm not kidding about people getting together in rooms."

"Oh. Well, good night, then," said Jenny, getting the hint.

"Good night," said the young elfin woman, over her shoulder, as she sashayed off.

* * *

The next morning Sara made a point of getting to Poe before Jenny left for breakfast.

That wasn't difficult. Though she had woken a bit before most of the residents, Jenny had discovered the showers. By the time she came back downstairs Sara was waiting. She had a very large smirk on her face.

"Oh, the wonders of advanced technology."

Jenny had the good grace to blush.

"I definitely need to tell Gadgetive about the plumbing, here."

"Well, the... 'special' plumbing is only in a few places and it's a secret shared between the people who have it. Too much demand for the supply."

"Ah..."

Jenny dressed, and she and Sara set off for breakfast.

"So, who are you dating?"

"No time for a boyfriend." Jenny sighed, looking tired again. "School. Super stuff. Family stuff."

"Nobody you're even interested in?"

"Well..."

For a moment, she saw something in Jenny's eyes.

"Oh-ho!"

"No, it's not like that," she said, shaking her head. "He's... not mine. Royalty. Literally."

"Take my advice," said Sara, seriously. "Find this guy. Make him yours."

At breakfast they got an update from the Outcasts, who had been asked by security to help deal with several sightings of strange creatures during the night. They had been called on to help watch for - then deal with - the shadowspawn and been busy until the wee hours. Which may have been why Jericho's outfit this morning was merely annoying, instead of nauseating.

"Thanks to you folks warning us they were susceptible to bright lights, we didn't have much trouble," said Jericho, after yielding to a yawn. "We weren't sure exactly what to use, so all the security teams had a mix. From portable lamps to camera strobes."

Razorback signed something, which Diamondback translated.

"He says we don't know which of them worked, 'cause as soon as anyone spotted any suspicious shadow, they turned every light on it at once."

The big, reptilian guy gave a toothy grin and a hissing laugh.

"Well, hopefully, I won't be causing this trouble for much longer," said Jenny, feeling guilty.

Fey joined Jenny in the line for regular food while Sara went off for one of her special meals.

"You're not like the capes here," said Nikki. "You and your friends and that teacher you team with actually sound like real people, instead of stereotypes."

"Oh, there are definitely some stuffed shirts," said Energia, waving her hand as if to chase away a bad odor. "Or stuffed costumes. Most of them are folks in the second tier. The real world-class folks take their work and their enemies seriously, but not themselves."

* * *

Meanwhile, someone else was also being briefed on the previous night's demonic exploits.

"How did those things get through the wards?!" said Carson.

"The wards took a major hit during the Hallowe'en attack," said the Reverend Englund. "Those are still being repaired. That first night there was an alert that something had entered the school grounds, but by the time anyone could respond all sign of the problem was gone."

"They are attracted to Energia," said Mrs. Chulkris. "With her concealed last night by those wards the girls put around her couch, the intruders can only tell in general where she is at night. During the day it doesn't matter. If we can send her home, back through their realm in a metaphysical reversal, they won't have any reason to come here."

"Actually," said Dr. Otto, "they would never have had a reason to come here. That is a realm where time works very differently than it does here. The metaphysical reversal of path will 'make it not happen.' However, the longer we take to send her back, the more difficult the task and the less likely it is to be successful."

"Then I expect you and Mrs. Chulkris to make that a priority," said the Headmistress. "Call in whatever resources you need. Besides reducing the risk to the school, we have a promise to keep to send Jenny home."

"We should be ready to try tomorrow. That'll be an even week since she got here."

"That's significant?" said Carson.

"Of course," said Englund. "The number seven has a strong mystical significance in nearly every culture."

* * *

Energia understandably arrived early at the prepared area in the forest. It was just on the other side of the wall around the school. Fey had explained to her that the wall actually marked the location of the school's primary wards. Left unsaid was the reason for doing this outside those wards. Energia was relieved to see Fey already there, with Mrs. Chulkris and Dr. Otto. She enthusiastically hugged Fey as she said hello to the Teachers.

"Sara will be here shortly," said the elfin girl, finally prying herself loose.

"Sorry. I'm very nervous."

"You have good reason to be," said Mrs. Chulkris, seriously. "We've been reviewing our procedures, and have hit a snag. We can't send you back instantaneously. You'd have to travel some distance and spend some time there."

"Now that I know light hurts them..." Energia began.

"It wouldn't hurt them there," said Dr. Otto. "Different rules."

"We do know how to send you home," said Mrs. Chulkris, firmly. "However, it would be irresponsible for us to do so without providing some sort of escort."

"A guardian," said Dr. Otto, frowning in thought. "Perhaps a substantiation?"

"Well, yes, but it would have to be a very firm one."

"What are you two talking about?" said Energia.

"It's a metaphysical thing," said Nikki. "Unless we send someone with you, you would be facing those shadow alone. However, that would leave your escort facing the same problem you have now: someone from here would be in your world with those things after them."

"So... What do we do?"

"As we mentioned, there could be a solution," said Dr. Otto. "However, it is still dangerous, and requires some powerful magic."

"You've got some powerful magical folks right here," said Sara, firmly, as she approached the small group.

"That we do," said Mrs. Chulkris, smiling. "Also, I think Dr. Otto is being deliberately pessimistic."

Her smile vanished as she turned to Jenny, taking her hands and staring into her eyes.

"Do not answer this casually. Is there someone you would trust not merely with your life, but with your soul? Someone you know would be able to protect that soul?"

"Yes," said Energia, flatly.

"My, my," said the older woman, eyes wide, actually pulling back a bit. "That is... a very powerful faith you have in someone."

"I assume that's good."

"Yes. As Fey noted, this is a matter of metaphysics. The more firmly you trust this person, the stronger your belief in them, the more effective the protection will be."

"It's not this guy you were telling me about, is it?" said Sara, teasing but also serious.

"No!" said Energia. Then came a startling realization. Though he's not very far behind.

"If you're certain you want to do this..." said Mrs. Chulkris.

"Yes!"

"Then we need to start now."

The four mystics had a hurried consultation, then set to work. There was plenty for Energia to do, as well, though her part was mental and spiritual. She sat on a nearby stump, clearing her mind and psyching herself up. Finally, they were ready.

"We'll open the portal in just a bit," said Dr. Otto. "Your guardian will appear on the other side when you step through. Please, I want to be clear on this. It will not be the person you trust, but a... An echo, so to speak. The strength of your guardian will depend on how strong your faith in this person is. From Mrs. Chulkris' reaction, it may even be far stronger than the real person. At least in that mystical realm."

"How will I know where to go?" said Energia, as serious as the others despite her eagerness to go home.

"You will be pulled in the right direction," said Mrs. Chulkris, nodding. "No worries there. Reality wants you to return to your natural plane."

"Then let's get to it."

The final steps were brief and relatively simple. A hole opened in the air, hovering just off the ground.

"Quickly, now!" shouted Dr. Otto.

Energia didn't need to be told twice.

* * *

Again, as a week before, Energia experienced a sense of dislocation. She didn't remember the actual passage through the gate, but simply found herself there. This time, though, "there" was vastly more bizarre than a New England farm.

She was in a blasted, distorted landscape, full of bare rock and strange, spindly plants. There were three dim suns in the sky, and they were all oval instead of round. They gave the impression of being eyes, rather than stars. Energia didn't really have much time to try and take things in, however, because there was someone there, waiting for her.

The figure wore a grey body stocking, with short, blue cape, trunks, booties and domino mask. A black T was printed across her muscular abdomen. She smiled at Energia. Then abruptly spun around and swatted a shadowspawn which was headed for the girl; the thing simply exploded, the pieces evaporating. More of the dark creatures were swarming in, along with others both larger and more distinct in shape. "Template" smiled again, and cracked her knuckles.

Energia suddenly realized that, as promised, she knew which way to go. She didn't know how far she needed to travel, but the tug was strong. She nodded to her guardian, and they lifted into the air together. She would be home, soon.

END

This material - with the exceptions noted at the beginning - is Copyright 2011 Rodford Edmiston Smith.

This was originally written for posting to the Whateley site, and so has a lot more explanation by Energia of her world than vice-versa.



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